Offshoring asylum claims to Rwanda will be especially harmful for LGBTQ+ people trying to reach the UK, activists and charities have warned.

Male asylum seekers crossing the Channel on small boats will be sent to the country on a one-way flight by the British government under a trial scheme, Boris Johnson announced on 14 April.

They will then be able to claim asylum in the UK from Rwanda, which is more than 4,000 miles away, as part of a £120 million deal.

During a speech in Kent, the Prime Minister claimed that “vile people smugglers” need to be stopped turning the ocean into a “watery graveyard”.

He explained that there would be no cap on the scheme and that the country would be able to process tens of thousands of claims in the years to come.

28,536 people are known to have crossed the Channel in small boats in 2021, which was an increase from 8,404 the year before.

Rwanda’s dire track record on human rights, especially in relation to LGBTQ+ people, has resulted in widespread condemnation of the plan from both charities and activists alike.

Rainbow Migration, a charity that exists to support LGBTQ+ people through asylum and immigration systems, is among these.

Speaking to GAY TIMES, Sonia Lenegan, its Legal and Policy Director, said the decision is “hugely concerning” because of the implications it could have.

“We know that in Rwanda it is not easy for LGBTQI+ people to be open due to the discrimination and abuse they experience, and so it is extremely difficult to see how anyone in that situation will be able to be make an asylum claim based on the fact that they are LGBTQI+, while also having to hide who they are,” she explained.

“Any LGBTQI+ person who is not prepared to stay in that situation in Rwanda, and who does want to live openly and safely, is instead likely to be pushed into making further dangerous journeys.”

Rwandan law forbids the changing of someone’s legal gender and, although homosexuality is not technically illegal, LGBTQ+ people often face arrest under laws that exist to uphold “good morals” there.

The UK government’s own foreign travel advice recognises the danger queer people face there.

“Homosexuality is not illegal in Rwanda but remains frowned on by many,” its website states. “LGBT individuals can experience discrimination and abuse, including from local authorities. There are no specific anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals.”

There were 1,012 asylum applications made in the UK on the basis of sexual orientation in 2020 alone, a number that was 44% lower than in 2019 – something that is widely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting global movement.

Many MPs have also been critical of the government’s plan.

Chris Bryant, Labour MP for the Rhondda, noted that it “will cost more than putting them up in the Ritz.”

“Boris Johnson is under fire so he’s pushed the “demonise migrants in case of emergency” button,” added Nadia Whittome, the Labour MP for Nottingham East.

“Deporting desperate people 5,000 miles away to camps in Rwanda is cruel beyond words.

“When you think the Tories cannot sink any lower, they always find a way.”

This is a developing story. More to follow.